Archive for the Horror Category

The Conjuring

Posted in Horror with tags on November 5, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: James Wan.
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes.
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins.

Want to play a game of hide and clap?

Having already had a hand in fuelling the string of torture porn horrors when he began the “Saw” franchise in 2004, director James Wan opts for a more retrained approach to his latest horror. “The Conjuring” harks back to vintage horror movies of the ’70’s where atmosphere takes precedence over shock tactics. As a result, it manages to be one of the more successful horror movies of recent times.

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Big Trouble In Little China * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70’s & 80’s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon.

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a loud-mouth, wise-cracking truck driver, who, while helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find his kidnapped girlfriend, is drawn into a world of centuries old Chinese mythology. Not before long, he’s battling evil spirits and two thousand year old sorcerer David Lo Pan (James Hong) intent on lifting an ancient curse and ruling the universe.

When released in 1986, Big Trouble In Little China received a very poor reception amongst cinema goers. It was a box-office bomb which greatly harmed the reputation of Carpenter (he went back to making independent films after this) and, to some extent, it’s star Russell. The fault of this doesn’t lie at their feet, though, but actually at the feet of the studio who simply didn’t know how to market it. In some ways, this is understandable as the film refuses to be pigeonholed. In the same breath, it can classed as a Kung Fu movie, a Western, a Fantasy, a Horror and a Romance. In essence, it’s all of these things and it’s also not without moments of Comedy. Carpenter delivers an unashamed homage to B-movie filmmaking and incorporates everything he possibly can. This may not work for some but over the years, this has gained a strong cult following, of which, I’m proud to say I’m a member. It has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek and it’s aided immeasurably by Kurt Russell’s riotously entertaining surrogate of John Wayne. His performances have rarely been pitched better or his lines as endlessly quotable. Russell’s embodiment of Jack Burton has to be one of the most enjoyable and buffoonish characters that cinema has to offer and had the studio had their way, it would have been Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson in the role. Thankfully though, it wasn’t, as Russell absolutely nails it – in a style not unlike both of the aforementioned actors – and he and Carpenter skilfully orchestrate their gags on the cultural differences between the East and the West. Burton is very much like Indiana Jones (minus the intellect), as he battles his way through an underworld of the fantastical and the magical where he crosses paths with demonic and monstrous adversaries. If the film sounds over-the-top, that’s because it is, but it’s also a highly imaginative and energetic crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully witty and adventurous, and one that sees Carpenter at his most gleefully entertaining. He crafts just the right balance of humour and action and his abilities to turn on the horror aren’t amiss either.

Mark Walker

World War Z * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Elyes Gabel, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Abigail Hargrove, John Gordon Sinclair.

In making it to the screen, World War Z wasn’t without it’s problems; firstly, there were complaints of it’s very loose take on Max Brooks’ novel, then it’s violence was toned down to achieve a PG-13 certificate; a script rewrite happened half way through production; cinematographer Robert Richardson left to work on “Django Unchained” and the likes of Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As all these problems piled up, the expectation was that the film would be an absolute disaster. Well, quite simply, it’s not. Despite it’s problems, it’s actually quite a tense and impressively handled thriller.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN worker, happily spending some time at home with his family, until the sudden outbreak of a zombie plague takes over his home city. They are forced to flee and Gerry manages to get his family to safety but news breaks that the whole world is suffering the same outbreak, leaving Gerry to get back in the field and use his experience to search for a cure.

After a brief introduction to our protagonist, Forster doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. Within minutes we are thrust into an absolutely exhilarating opening sequence of the rampaging undead overtaking Philadelphia (actually shot in Glasgow, where I witnessed them filming) and it’s from here that you realise that there’s plenty of potential in this summer blockbuster. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lack of blood or gore because the suspense is handled so competently and effectively that you’re still on the edge of your seat. In fact, it’s the perfect example that less can be more sometimes. What’s most impressive, though, is the epic scale in which it’s delivered. There are several intense action set-pieces where hordes of zombies leap from rooftops, clamber over walls and rampage through an aircraft mid-flight. As an action movie, it certainly delivers the goods and also finds the time to incorporate geopolitics as the epidemic goes world wide. Anchoring all this mayhem is a solidly understated, central performance from Pitt. Having produced this movie – throughout it’s spiralling budget – his commitment to make it work comes across in his performance. He’s entirely believable and identifiable as a family man desperate to survive his chaotic surroundings. Nobody else really gets a look in, including a severely downsized role for Matthew Fox and a brief cameo from, the always reliable, David Morse. Ultimately, the film rests on Pitt’s shoulders, though, and he handles it with aplomb. So much so, that the lack of blood splattering and zombie flesh eating takes a back seat to the character driven drama.
Due to it’s production difficulties, plans for a sequel were shelved. However, having now become a box-office summer smash, the sequel has been given the go-ahead. I, for one, wholeheartedly welcome it.

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Against the odds, this manages to be a satisfyingly tense addition to the zombie sub-genre. It doesn’t go for the jugular in a gratuitous manner, instead it works on your nerves and focuses on telling a relatable story. Die hard horror fans may want more from it, but it delivered just the right amount of thrills for me.

Mark Walker

Evil Dead * 1/2

Posted in Horror with tags on September 5, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Fede Alvarez.
Screenplay: Fede Alvarez, Diablo Cody.
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore.

It’s been over 30 years since director Sam Raimi gave us his cult horror classic “The Evil Dead” in 1981. Now, like most other films of the genre, we are given the unavoidable remake. Raimi is on-hand again, with producing duties, but the same can said of most remakes, in that they needn’t have bothered in the first place.

In order to kick her heroine habit, Mia (Jane Levy) and a few friends head to a remote cabin away from society and any temptations. It’s here, that they stumble upon some strange goings on in the cellar and find the Book of the Dead, which once opened, releases a demon intent on possessing them all.

The difference between this and the stylishly imaginative original, is that Raimi’s was shot on a shoestring budget by a bunch of college students, intent on experimenting and pushing boundaries. This, on the other hand, throws in the bucks and it’s use of gratuitous gore simply doesn’t have the same impact or originality of it’s tongue-in-cheek predecessor. The approach that debutant director Alvarez takes is the film’s biggest issue: it has an innate inability to laugh at itself. It’s far too serious and as a result has to be judged on that. It’s one of those horrors were you know not to expect logic, reasoning or any form of a sensible decision by it’s characters. They’re merely there as fodder for some soul devouring evil entity. It is what it is, and that’s fine, but when you ask an audience to fully commit themselves, then you have to offer them something in return. If it was in touch with it’s sense of humour then this could have been a wild ride in a similar vein to “The Cabin in the Woods“. Unfortunately, it isn’t and its serious, po-faced approach comes across as ludicrous. Added to which, it’s a horror film that has very few genuine frights, a surprising lack of suspense and it’s use of jump scares are glaringly obvious and redundant. To be fair, it does bring some laughs to the table, but those laughs are entirely unintentional.

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One for the torture-porn generation that have no interest in characterisation or plot development. It’s main agenda is to deliver gore and plenty of it. In that respect, it delivers but on every other level it fails miserably. Unequivocally, the worst film of 2013.

Mark Walker

Mama * * *

Posted in Horror with tags on June 3, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Andy Muschietti.
Screenplay: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Neil Cross.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat, Morgan McGarry, David Fox, Hannah Cheeseman.

After producing the disappointing “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” in 2011, Guillermo del Toro lends his name – and financial services – to another American horror production, which is actually an elaboration of the 2008, three minute short, “Mamá” by the same Argentine director Andrés Muschietti. For the most part, del Toro has wisely chosen a director to invest in, but like so many before him, he fails to deliver the ultimate punch that’s so important in this particular genre.

A father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), seemingly in a state of desperation abducts his two young daughters and flees with them to a remote cabin in the woods. His intention is to kill them but before he does, a dark entity interjects and kills him instead. For years afterwards, the father’s twin brother (Coster-Waldau again) searches for his nieces and eventually finds them. They have went feral and claim to have been looked after by something they refer to as “Mama”. However, when they head back to civilisation, “Mama” has no intentions of leaving them alone.

Let me just start by saying that “Mama” is a very frustrating movie. When I say frustrating, I don’t mean bad, as this film can’t quite be labeled as such. It has many things to recommend it; the deliberate pace; the teasing build up; freaky children; the spectre only hinted at or briefly glimpsed. Director Andrés Muschietti (or Andy as he’s credited) certainly knows how to build tension and raise the goosebumps. He does it so commandingly and assembles two impressive lead actors that are at the forefront of everyone’s minds at present; the ubiquitous, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastian and rising “Games Of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – not to mention two excellent child actors in Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, but (forgive me if I’m mistaken here) is the role of executive producer not to produce, or oversee, the financial side of a film, allowing a director to fully express their vision and help with the distribution of the product? If that’s the case, then Guillermo del Toro can certainly be seen to have done his side of the bargain on the latter half, as this has reached quite an impressive audience, but on the the former he has to come under scrutiny. When this film is forced into delivering the visuals, they seem cheap and really not up to the standard that a more sophisticated audience are accustomed to. The finale is delivered in such a way that it strips the whole film of the good work that went before – Namely, revealing the ghost too much and too soon. When will filmmakers – particularly those in the horror genre – learn, that less is more? It’s not necessary for us to witness the antagonist in full view and allow our minds to be force fed, when it worked so much better when we were kept in the dark. In fairness, it’s a poorly written denouement that still falls at the feet of director Muschietti, who co-writes with Neil Cross and sister Barbara Muschietti. They construct a brilliant horror concept with an effective, mother/daughter emotional core, but are simply unable to bring it to any satisfying conclusion. That’s exactly where the frustration lies; this film had so much going for it, that it leaves you in disbelief that it’s all squandered in contrivances and poor CGI, which ultimately leaves you with the overriding feeling that not all short film’s have the ability or mileage for a feature length endeavour.

For the most part, this is a very effective and engaging modern horror but like so many from recent times, it fails to deliver when it really matters. Here’s some advice from your “Dada“… expect less and you’ll receive more.

Mark Walker

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In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Pan’s Labyrinth * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War with tags on March 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece.

Following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves to a rural town with her pregnant mother (Ariadne Gil) to live with her Fascist military stepfather (Sergi López) who is determined to weed out resistance fighters to Franco’s dictatorship. It’s in this remote town that Ofelia meets a faun in the centre of a labyrinth who tells her that she is a princess. However, to claim her rightful place in this magical land she must perform certain gruesome tasks to prove her royalty.

It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.
To embody the young protagonist, we are gifted an outstanding performance from Ivana Baquero who carries a heavy weight on her young shoulders and does so, with a skill beyond her years. Sergi Lopez also provides marvellous support as the bestial Captain Vidal who’s a smouldering villain that’s on a par with any of the war genre’s nastiest characters.
It’s very difficult to find criticism in this film as there simply, isn’t any. The only one that stands out is in the film’s title. It’s slightly misleading as “Pan” never actually features here. The original international title translates as “Labyrinth of the Fuan” which is probably the most pedantic gripe you’ll ever hear from me.

A stunning piece of work that’s both beautifully and horrifically executed. Modern masterpiece is a term that gets brandished around too often these days but this is one that’s certainly deserving of such praise.

Mark Walker

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